This is the second entry from the “Journey Journal” of Sophia Taliaferro, a high school junior in Virginia who first hit the Triple Crown Sports radar in June 2022 while taking part in multiple pre-event camps before the Colorado 4th of July softball tournament. The idea was sparked to hear straight from a student-athlete’s perspective about not just college recruiting, but how past experiences and current events influence the timeless question – what’s the future going to look like?
Falling out of love with your sport is something many athletes face; I’ve been there myself. Here I want to talk about events that led to my decision to quit softball, and how I came back.
At age 10, I decided I wanted to play softball in college. I wrote out my goal on a piece of paper and stuck it on the fridge. I believed softball would be a constant in my life. That year I had to leave the team that helped me discover my passion for the game as my parents and I decided that to pursue my dream, I had to move to a more competitive organization. I was heartbroken about having to leave behind my best friends, but excited to be moving forward to bigger things.
My 11u team was my first experience in having a negative coach. My coach promised that their experience along with the reputation of the organization would guarantee me a career in college softball. I had high expectations for the season, but the quality of coaching simply didn’t hold up. My coach turned out to be extremely degrading and mentally abusive. I have one distinct memory from that season that happened when my new 11u team had been playing the 10u season team I had just left.
I was behind the plate that game – and I had just failed to block a ball from my pitcher and a run scored. My coach called time and marched out of the dugout towards me, already accusing me through body language. I was cussed out in front of all my former teammates and their parents sitting behind the fence. I had been publicly humiliated for a single mistake. Many of my former teammate's parents approached my coach after the game to defend me. My coach apologized to me and my parents, but it never really got better. He only liked me when I was afraid of him, so when I decided not to be afraid anymore there was nothing left.
Needless to say, I found myself on another new team the next year. Fast forward to age 14, the travel team I had been on had fallen apart and I was forced to find another new team. A coach that I had known for a while reached out to me and asked me to join their team. The team would play at the highest travel level, and it would be my first year going to the big travel tournaments. The coach won me over by complimenting my skills and selling the team.
What I thought would be my forever travel team turned out to be one of the worst experiences of my life. The coach had obvious favorite players that were made blameless in all situations. After losses, we would receive 30-minute lectures where players were called out by name for what they did wrong. The coach would throw the schools we were emailing in our faces and tell us we would never be good enough to play there with our performance. If a team member was struggling, the culture the coach had built ostracized them. If you performed, you were liked. I watched girls who had been confident, passionate players on that team suffer with severe performance anxiety and self-doubt. It was at this point in my life that softball felt more like a task instead of a game. I couldn’t find any adult that I could trust. The next couple of years went on about the same as I slowly shut down. I dreaded practices, and every second I was on a field I wanted to be someplace else.
So, I stopped. I took a three-month break and I wasn’t sure I was ever coming back. I played field hockey, hung out with friends from school, slept a lot and did homework. My parents would talk to me once in a while to try and see where I was and understand where I was coming from, but I was too burnt out to even talk about it.
One day my dad told me I needed to try again. Get up, get your bag, let's go practice – so I did. It made me angry, but at the same time I figured it was time to give it a try. I needed to see if I could find that passion again before I walked away for good. My dad was coaching a rec team of 12u girls and asked me to help run some practices. Working with them reminded me of my early days playing and helped me realize that I missed it.
Ultimately, I was able to find a team and a coach who really cares about me as a person and a player. It’s hard to put trust in coaches who screw you over, and it made me lose trust in the game. But my family didn’t give up on me, I didn’t give up for long, and now I’m back to stay.